“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).
It is amazing to me how some theologians can get things so mixed up—how they can take something simple and make it complex. As one old-timer puts it, “Some people are educated beyond their intelligence.”
The Bible is God’s revelation to man. The word “revelation” means that the purpose of the Bible is to reveal God to us. This reflects God’s intention that His Word be understood by everyone, not just the scholar. It should be no wonder then, that Paul’s epistles were not given to the church in classical Greek; rather, they were recorded for us in Koine Greek—what we might call the working man’s language. The untrained person in the pew with a little common sense often does better at understanding the Bible than the trained theologian (so-called).
There are a number of strange doctrines circulating within the Grace Movement that do not pass the “common sense” test. Christians, who for years thought they understood what the Bible clearly says, are now confused because certain folks have come into their assembly and told them that the Bible doesn’t really mean what it says.
Of course, the irony of this is that understanding Paul’s gospel is built upon letting the Bible mean what it says to whom it is written. To abandon the old adage of “when common sense makes sense, seek no other sense” is folly indeed.
SHOULD YOU FIRE YOUR PASTOR?
An ongoing example of this type of reasoning is the teaching that the gift of pastor-teacher is not for today. Though I’m sure that I will be accused of over-simplifying their argument, it goes something like this: In Ephesians 4:13 we read that the gift of pastor-teacher will be “till we come…unto a perfect man.” Then we are taken to Colossians 1:25 where we read that Paul was given the job of fulfilling the Word of God. Next, we are told that the word “perfect” in Ephesians 4:13 means “complete,” and since the Word of God was fulfilled or completed by Paul, the church is now a “perfect man.” Therefore, they conclude, we no longer need the gift of pastor-teacher because the Word of God is completed. All we need now is to read the Word of God.
You may initially believe their fast talk. But you need to keep them within the context. It is always dangerous to do a word study and then try to force fit that one meaning of the word into every context. Context is always king! It is true that the word teleios, rendered “perfect” in Ephesians 4:13 may be translated as complete. It may also be translated as “mature.” For example, in 1 Corinthians 13:10, teleios is better translated as “complete” because that best fits the context.
Do we believe that the Word of God was completed or fulfilled by Paul? Absolutely! But is it good hermeneutics to say that “a perfect man” in Ephesians 4:13 is referring to the perfected Body of Christ because the Scriptures are completed? I don’t think so!
Let us look at Ephesians 4:13 in its context and see what it says as to the purpose and duration of the gifts to the Body of Christ.
Now the completion of the Word of God does have an impact on the duration on the first two of these gifted men given to the church. The gifts of apostle and prophet have passed away upon the completion of the Word of God—specifically the revelation of the mystery given to Paul. 1 However, it does not follow that just because the gifts of apostle and prophet have passed away, that the gifts of evangelist and pastor-teacher have also passed away.
To back that up, let us first look at the purpose of these gifts given to the Body of Christ. Ephesians 4:12 gives us a progressive set of reasons for these gifts. The first reason given (denoted by the word “for” in our Bible) is the perfecting of the saints. The word for perfecting here is katartizo and it has the idea of “to equip for service.” The pastor is to be equipping us for the work of the ministry. This work of the ministry that we (the ENTIRE Body of Christ) are to be doing is supposed to result in the edification or building up of the Body of Christ. This is similar to what Paul says in verse 16 where he talks about “every joint” doing its part which “maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” So then, the purpose of these gifts to the church is so that the saints will be equipped for the work of the ministry, which will result in the church building itself up in love.
Now, the next question to be answered is, “How long is this supposed to take place?” Some tell us that this only takes place until the completion of the canon of Scripture. Does that mean that these gifts stopped when Paul stopped writing? Or does it mean that they did not cease until the church had settled the issue of canonicity many years later?
In addition, even if it was logical to connect the cessation of the gift of pastor with the completion of the Scriptures (which is isn’t), it would still not hold true because the selected phrase “unto a perfect man” is only one of four statements in verse 13.
Verse 13 starts with the word “til”—these gifts will be operational until we ALL come into:
1) The unity of the faith
2) The knowledge of the Son of God
3) Unto a perfect man
4) Unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ
We, the Body of Christ, need to reach unity in doctrine—unity of the faith, the body of truth committed to the Apostle Paul. Look around and it quickly becomes obvious that this condition has not been met. Even within a local church this is not true, not to mention how it is not true in the confused and divided church at large.
Do we have full, precise, and correct knowledge of the Son of God? Would anyone dare to claim this? Paul did not. In Philippians he said that this was his desire, not something that he had already attained (Phil. 3:10).
Are we fully mature—have we attained unto a perfect man? Well, if we have, then we dare claim what Paul himself did not dare to claim because we read in Philippians 3:12, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” He did not claim to be perfected. Are we better than he? Apparently, some think so.
The fourth condition is arriving to the “measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” Wow! Who can honestly say that he is at this point in his Christian life? This is speaking of no less than being in the image of Christ. While we are certainly predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ, I have yet to meet anyone who has indeed done so this side of glory.
The gift of pastor-teacher will be in effect until ALL of the conditions in verse 13 are met, and a “perfect man” is only one of them. Surely you can see that these conditions will never be fully realized this side of heaven. The gift of pastor-teacher will be here until the rapture!
In addition, this teaching fails the reality test. Church history does not back up these claims. In every dispensation, God has worked through His chosen vessels. To say that all you need is your Bible and your intellect disregards the teachings of Christ regarding the purpose of the Body of Christ. Just having the Bible and your brain will not make you a mature Christian. You cannot eliminate the work of the Holy Spirit (yes, He is still active today!—but that’s a whole other article) and the Body of Christ in your spiritual development. Knowledge is essential, but knowledge, of itself, only puffs up. As Paul tells the Corinthians, “we all have knowledge” (1 Cor. 8:1) and the implication is “So what?” What counts, Paul says, is not knowledge per se, but faith working itself out through love (Gal. 5:6).
IS IT WRONG TO PRAY?
Another, and perhaps the most disturbing example of misguided theology, is the notion that God is only interested in spiritual things today. According to some, He is neither interested nor involved in anything physical today. This means, they say, that we should pray only for “spiritual” things. In their view, God is not interested in anything having to do with physical needs or wants. He will not intervene, so don’t waste your time praying about such things. To back up their argument, they go to verses where Paul is praying for spiritual knowledge and wisdom for the saints.
Let’s look at a few of these verses. One such verse is Colossians 1:9, “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” See, they say, this shows that you should only pray for spiritual things like being filled with the knowledge of God’s will (which they say means knowing the mystery).
But remember context? Don’t let them stop with verse 9. Go on and read verse 10, because it shows us the reason that Paul made the prayer request: “That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.” The purpose for praying for the knowledge of God’s will is so that we can walk worthy of the Lord, being fruitful in every good work. This is intensely practical! This deals with the practical business of living out our Christian life in the real (physical) world on a day to day basis.
Another verse is 1 Thessalonians 5:23 which reads, “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Is this physical or spiritual? Why would Paul pray that we be “blameless” unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ? Aren’t we already complete in Christ and accepted in the beloved (Col. 2:10; Eph. 1:6)? Aren’t we free from judgment (Rom. 8:33)? So, if we are already blameless spiritually because of our position in Christ, what is Paul talking about here? Well, just like Colossians 1:9-10, he is talking about our walk. We need to be walking worthy of our calling in Christ. It is the things done in the body that will be judged at the Bema Seat of Christ—spiritual consequences for physical actions!
What is conveniently left out are all the verses where Paul DOES pray for physical things. Perhaps one of the first verses to come to mind is Philippians 4:6 where we are told to pray about “everything.” Some will tell us that “everything” means only spiritual things. But is this true? Does it fit the context? Well, even in Greek, all means “all.” And that is the word that is used here (pas). In addition, in Philippians 4:10-20, Paul is talking about physical things, not just spiritual things. In verses 10-13 he talks about having abundance and suffering need. If there is any doubt that this is referring to physical things, his talking about learning “to be full and to be hungry” in verse 12 and “necessities” in verse 16 should remove any doubt. Also, in Philippians 1:19, Paul expresses his confidence that their prayers will result in his deliverance from prison.
DOES ALL REALLY MEAN ALL?
This erroneous idea that God is only interested in spiritual things has other ramifications as well. In addition to robbing dear believers of their intimacy with the Lord through prayer, this teaching also removes any sense of comfort that we get from knowing that God is sovereign over what happens in our lives.
A prime example of this is found in Romans 8:28. For centuries, Christians have found comfort in this verse which tell us that all things work together for good to those who love God, who are the called according to His purpose. “Oh,” this wise one tells us, “Surely you know that all doesn’t really mean all. That verse only refers to spiritual things. Only spiritual things are working together for good.”
Thankfully, I can tell you that such talk is not true. Again, even in the Greek, all means ALL! It’s that same word pas again. It is the context that will determine what “all” is referring to here. So, based on the context of Romans 8:28, does all literally mean all, or does all refer only to spiritual things?
Context includes both the verses before and the verses after. To get the preceding context, look at Romans 8:18. Sufferings here obviously refers to physical sufferings, otherwise, what he is saying makes no sense.
For the following context, look at Romans 8:31-39. In verse 35, Paul is undeniably talking about physical things—tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword. Then notice what he says in verse 37, “In all these things we are more than conquerors though Him who loved us.” What things? Those physical things just mentioned previously. When you keep Romans 8:28 in its context, it is clear that all really does mean all—spiritual AND physical!
In addition to the Biblical proof that we are to pray about physical things, the dispensation of grace has many examples of godly men and women who had prayer answered regarding physical things (William Carey comes readily to mind). I have clearly had prayer answered in my own life. It is not just coincidence. God is still sovereign. He can still choose to work through circumstances and other believers to answer our prayers. He still can give us inner peace or not as we listen to His “still, small voice” as He speaks to our heart.
If God is not involved in physical things today, if He does not answer prayer today, if He is disinterested in what is going on in the world today, then why bother—we may as well be atheists. For all practical purposes, this teaching is the same as Deism or Gnosticism.
God does want to hear from His children. We have a personal relationship with Him through our Lord Jesus Christ. This is why we can approach Him and call Him “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15)—a term of close endearment. And, like a father, God wants to hear about whatever it is that is concerning us.
Paul wrote often about Judaizers who came into the church and tried to rob the believers of their joy. These instigators tried to remove them from the simplicity they had in Christ. They tried to put them under the bondage of the law.
Unfortunately, the same types of people are in the church today. You find them stirring up trouble and causing believers to doubt things which they should not be doubting and causing them to stumble in their walk with the Lord.
Paul also says that the reason for such troublemakers is their desire to create a following after themselves (Acts 20:30). They desire to put you into bondage—only in this case it is not the Mosaic Law, but their elitist and misguided interpretation of the Scriptures.
What then is to be our response? I can think of no better admonition than that of our Apostle Paul who said, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1).
- It is only tradition that dates the writing of the book of Revelation around 90-95 ad. I believe that Paul was the last writer of the New Testament. I believe that the internal evidence (not tradition) indicates that the kingdom writings of the New Testament (Matthew-Luke, the General Epistles, and Revelation) were all written before 70 a.d. and the destruction of the temple. ↩